Getting a new puppy is a big responsibility; it’s much like bringing home a new baby except babies aren’t as cute. Puppies are vulnerable as babies, so you have to take care of your puppy in much the same way as you would an infant and you should have similar expectations regarding their development.
For example, it can take upwards of two years to toilet train a human baby, so don’t get frustrated if it takes your puppy a mere six months to be fully house trained. Here are 21 great tips for new puppy owners to maintain their enthusiasm and excitement for their puppies – and to lay the foundation for a happy, healthy and well-adjusted adult dog.
The first three tips are incredibly important, so even if you take nothing else away from this article, remember:
- Start as you mean to go on
The behaviors, routines and habits that your puppy gets into now will be carried forward for the rest of her life. So think about what you want from your adult dog and start cultivating those behaviors from the get-go. For example, if you don’t want your adult Great Dane to share your bed at night, don’t let her sleep on the bed as a puppy. If you don’t want your adult Rottweiler jumping up to greet you, your guests and strangers on the street, don’t allow her to jump as a puppy – cultivate an incompatible alternative behavior, like a solid default sit, instead.
- You are your puppy’s guide
Your new puppy doesn’t know the rules of your house, so you need to guide her and help her understand what behaviors will work for her and what won’t. Change your mindset: Think about what you want your puppy to do and start rewarding her for getting things right, instead of thinking about what you don’t want her to do and punishing her for getting things wrong. For example, reward quiet, calm behavior around the cat, rather than shouting at her once she gets zoomies and chases the cats around the house. The more behavior is rewarded (or reinforced) the stronger it gets, so don’t be afraid to go nuts with treats, praise and attention for the first few months of your puppy’s life.
There are so many problems with punishment that we won’t go into them here. The important things to know are that punishment doesn’t teach your puppy what to do instead and you don’t know what you really are teaching your puppy ( for example, that hands are scary and so she must defend herself every time a hand comes near her). The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior has this to say about punishment: Punishment has several adverse effects, including “inhibition of learning, increased fear-related and aggressive behaviors, and injury to animals and people interacting with animals,” including children. You can’t teach your puppy what not to do – but you can teach her what to do instead. Always have a ‘legal’ alternative behavior in mind.
Now to the other 18 tips to make raising your new puppy a joy:
- Start puppy school as soon as possible
It’s never too early to introduce your new puppy to the basics of obedience training, but far more important than teaching your puppy good household manners is the socialisation with other pups and people, the interaction in a strange environment and the novel stimuli that good puppy classes provide. Remember, puppy training is not about dealing with problems, but is about preventing behavior problems in the first place by helping you understand your puppy’s development and giving you the tools to make raising your puppy fun. Choose a puppy school with professional, certified dog trainers who have experience training puppies using force-free, positive reinforcement methods. Here’s some great advice on how to choose a puppy school.
- Take your puppy out and about
New experiences are essential for successful puppy socialisation and that includes exposure to different people, things and environments. Places like the supermarket parking lot, the park across from a kiddies day care and building construction sites offer a variety of new sights, smells and noises; just make sure your puppy can cope with the situation. Start taking your puppy with you to pet-friendly restaurants and coffee shops for great socialisation and to make her presence part of your lifestyle.
- Condition your puppy to the leash
Introduce your puppy to the harness, leash and leashing training slowly. Don’t make the mistake of clipping on the harness and lead the first time you intend taking puppy out for a walk. If you do, don’t be surprised if your pup puts up a bit of a fight. Instead, use treats to create positive associations with the harness and lead before you ever intend putting them on.
Puppies bite and it’s not always related to teething. Biting or mouthing is one of the ways that puppies explore the world; it’s up to you to teach your puppy how to control her bite and use a ‘soft mouth’ so that she learns to curb her enthusiasm and doesn’t do any serious damage with her teeth.
- Play often
There is nothing cuter than a puppy playing and nothing will solidify your relationship as well or as quickly as joining in the play and becoming part of your puppy’s reward system. Throw your inhibitions out the window and get silly with your pup; the emotional benefits for both of you are enormous.
- Teach your puppy tricks
Puppies might not have impressive attention spans, but their brains will never be more open to learning than during their first 4 months. You can use clicker training to teach your puppy simple tricks like nose targeting, paw (high five) and figure 8s. Seeing the ‘light bulb’ moment when she understands what it is you want her to do and her joy as she successfully performs is out of this world.
- Get a crate
Crate training is one of the most sensible things to do with puppies. Crates are places of safety and security – not punishment. They are invaluable when your puppy is feeling overwhelmed and needs to rest her weary head and they can provide a sense of continuity and comfort if you intend vacationing with your puppy. Start crate training your puppy by making the crate as comfortable as possible and letting her come and go of her own free will – only start closing the door when she is able to settle.
- Make a puppy pen
A puppy pen is basically a dedicated safe place for your puppy to play, eat, sleep, chew, toilet and stay out of trouble when you are unable to physically watch them, for example, when you’re in the bath or have to pop to the shops and can’t take her with you. It can be any size, so long as there is enough space for your puppy’s bed, her food and water bowls, a toilet area (puppy training pads or a patch of lawn) and some toys and chews to keep her busy.
- Invest in some baby gates
Baby gets allow you to manage your puppy’s access to your house and also provide convenient time outs when your pup starts to get overexcited and needs some time to calm down. You can separate her from whatever is causing her excitement (other dogs, cats, kids) without isolating her.
- Introduce grooming early
Get your puppy used to being brushed and having her teeth brushed and nails clipped as soon as possible. Again, do it slowly and build positive associations using food.
- Consistency is key
Consistency doesn’t just mean being consistent about taking your puppy out to the loo, ignoring jumping and rewarding alternative behaviors; it also means that everyone in your family (and, ideally) your social circle is on the same page regarding what your want for and from your puppy. If just one person in the house allows puppy to jump on them, the jumping will continue.
- Get into a house training routine
The best house training tip to get your puppy properly potty trained is to get into a routine and to stick to it consistently. A rule of thumb is that the number of hours your puppy can hold is equal to however old she is in months. So if your puppy is 2 months old she can probably go 2 hours before needing to go potty. That means you need to take her outside to the designated toilet area every 2 hours (even at night) to prevent accidents. Reward her with a treat and praise when she’s finished.
You don’t have to feed your puppy out of a bowl 3 times a day. You can use interactive feeding toys like Kongs or puzzle feeders to engage your puppy’s brain during meals and keep her mentally stimulated.
- If it’s in reach, it’s fair game
If you don’t want your shoes chewed and your dirty laundry raided put your shoes away and put the lid on the laundry hamper. If your puppy can reach it, she’s going to chew it. It’s up to you to manage the environment so she can’t destroy any (or too many) of your possessions. Remember, she’s not doing it to get back at you for anything or because she likes being naughty, she’s doing it because she can.
- Maintain novelty value for chewies and toys
Puppies, like kids, get bored. You can keep them interested in toys and chewies by rotating them and not using the same things all the time. Your puppy might love chewing hooves, but she’ll appreciate something like an ostrich knuckle or some beef sinew every once in a while too. She might love her blue squeaky elephant, some the rope toy with ball can also be exciting, as can the Frisbee.
- Get your puppy used to being on her own
It’s very important that your puppy learns to cope on her own so she doesn’t develop separation anxiety problems. She needs to learn to cope without you or any other people in the house, as well as without any of the other pets that could give her a false sense of confidence. Practice alone time, but do it sensitively. Start off with short periods of her in another room and build up to being able to drive away for a two-hour dinner out with your significant other. Always, always give her something to keep her occupied, like a Kong with kibble and liver paste or a hoof with frozen goodies inside.
- Visit the vet for fun
Most puppies don’t like the vet because their first visit involves something unpleasant, like shots. It’s a good idea to make an appointment to introduce your puppy to her vet, which should just involve some fun interaction and some treats. The experience should be entirely positive so that future visits aren’t scary.
- Exercise your puppy appropriately
Puppies need physical exercise as well as mental stimulation and walking off property is a great way to kill these two birds with one stone. However, it’s very important that you don’t over-exercise your pup as you could do long-term damage to their bone plates and joints.
Bonus: Puppies can be prone to certain illnesses like gastro-intestinal disorders, ear infections and kennel cough (even if they have been vaccinated, they could get a new strain), so it’s a good idea to get puppy insurance as soon as possible. Getting pet insurance while your dog is still a puppy will also eliminate the chance of pre-existing conditions being excluded.